Desistance approaches in youth justice: Conceptualisations, barriers and enablers

Kathy Hampson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


‘Desistance’ has entered youth justice parlance principally from adult-centric research and practice, through the work of those advocating for a more strengths-based approach to working with children and evidencing the benefits of moving away from risk-based practice. This emphasis on positive working chimes well with current ‘Child First’ thinking, which the Youth Justice Board (YJB) has declared their ‘strategic approach and central guiding principle’ (YJB, 2021, p 10). But how much is ‘desistance’ really understood by those at the coalface of youth justice delivery – practitioners? Its conceptualisation does not seem to be fully accepted or agreed upon by the different agencies of youth justice, potentially causing confusion ‘on the ground’. This lack of clarity, compounded by YJB training being provided only on a cascade basis, where a few centrally trained staff members ‘cascade’ training to their team, seems to have resulted in practitioners feeling ill-equipped to translate the model of desistance being promoted by the YJB into practice. In this chapter, the YJB desistance model will be explored, alongside different conceptualisations of other agencies within the sector (particularly the sector inspectorates), with these different conceptualisations causing confusion in expectations for youth offending teams (YOTs) tasked with making it reality. Analysis of feedback from YOT practitioners after being given further specific training on desistance in youth justice, provided over the past seven years, indicates where their confusions lie and where they still perceive the barriers to desistance-friendly working with justice-involved children to be. This will inform recommendations for how the sector could better conceptualise and operationalise desistance in youth justice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesistance and Children
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Reflections from Theory, Research and Practice
EditorsAlexandra Wigzell, Claire Paterson-Young, Tim Bateman
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherBristol University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781447369127
ISBN (Print)9781447369110
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2024


  • child-centric
  • drift
  • pro-social development
  • Child First Youth Justice
  • strengths-based
  • AssetPlus
  • relationship building


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